Home >> Cruise Fiascos >> Royal Caribbean accepted my $4,200 upgrade bid for a downgraded cabin

Royal Caribbean accepted my $4,200 upgrade bid for a downgraded cabin

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Consumer reporter and ombudsman

Royal Caribbean offered Stan Fernald and his wife the opportunity to bid on an upgraded cabin for their upcoming cruise. So they did. Then just days before the Liberty of the Seas set sail, the cruise line accepted their $4,200 RoyalUp bid. But this wasn’t welcome news for the couple. Not at all. By that time, they had paid Royal Caribbean thousands of dollars to switch to one of the largest suites onboard the ship.

The cabin Royal Caribbean awarded the couple through RoyalUp was actually a RoyalDown.

The Fernalds rejected the smaller cabin assigned to them through the auction. And Royal Caribbean just as quickly rejected their refund request of the $4,200 bid.

Now with RCCL standing firm on the nonrefundable nature of RoyalUp bids, Stan is asking for our help. He hopes we can convince the cruise line they’ve made a mistake and get his money back.

Can we do it?

Planning a Royal Caribbean cruise to escape the winter

Last summer, Stan and his wife decided that as a Christmas present to themselves, they would take a Royal Caribbean cruise in January. Looking through all the options RCCL had to offer, leaving from the port in Galveston, Texas, the couple settled on a 7-day cruise through the western Caribbean.

This is the itinerary of this passenger's Royal Caribbean cruise on the Liberty of the Seas.
A winter getaway: A Royal Caribbean cruise onboard the Liberty of the Seas

The couple booked a Grand Suite onboard the ship and began to prepare for their adventure.

Not long after we booked the cruise, Royal Caribbean started emailing us about bidding on an upgraded cabin. So I bid on some of the options. We were already in a nice one-bedroom suite, but I thought some of the options the RoyalUp program offered seemed worth it.

Stan recalling his Royalup bids

Stan placed his bids and then didn’t think much more about it. He and his wife were happy with the Grand Suite, but if any of the other possibilities panned out, that would be great, too.

Adding one more person to this RCCL cruise

At Christmas, Stan and his wife were excitedly discussing their upcoming cruise with his sister-in-law.

“She [his sister-in-law] decided to come with us on the cruise,” Stan explained. “She would be by herself, so I decided to ask Royal Caribbean how we could comfortably add her to our reservation.”

The current room only had one bedroom. Not wanting their new roommate to be forced to sleep on a couch, the group decided that now a cabin upgrade was a must.

Stan called Royal Caribbean and explained the situation to the consultant. Soon the family was presented with a pricey but acceptable answer to their problem.

The RCCL cruise consultant explained that the Villa Suite was vacant for their sailing. With just three weeks before the cruise, Stan could secure the cabin for a little over $4,000 with his sister-in-law’s cruise fare factored in.

The Villa Suite (formerly called the Presidential Suite) is a four-bedroom cabin on the Liberty of the Seas. The cabin has plenty of space inside, but its real shining point is the outdoor space. The suite’s balcony has a jacuzzi, a large bar, and lots of sitting areas.

Stan was sold. He paid for the upgrade and soon received the confirmation that the trio would be sailing in the Villa Suite.

Then two days later, came an unexpected “congratulations” from the RoyalUp team. It brought confusing, unwanted, and expensive news.

Wait a minute! This isn’t an upgrade, Royal Caribbean!

Two days after confirming our paid upgrade to the 4-bedroom Villa Suite, I got a confusing email from Royal Caribbean. The cruise line congratulated us on our RoyalUp upgrade to another one bedroom suite. We were already confirmed in the big four bedroom suite, so this made no sense. I assumed that my bid for an upgrade would have been automatically canceled after the Royal Caribbean consultant helped us to secure the Villa Suite.

Stan describing his confusion with the cabin “upgrade.”

That was an assumption that turned out to be entirely incorrect. As it turns out, the RoyalUp department and the booking department don’t communicate very well.

So now Stan had a $4,200 problem on his hands. After spending much time ensuring that his paid upgrade to the Villa Suite was reinstated, his first intention was to enjoy his tropical winter cruise.

If you pay to upgrade your cruise cabin, shouldn’t RoyalUp cancel any pending bids?

During his cruise, Stan tried to straighten out the billing problem with guest services. Unfortunately, he says that no one on board the ship seemed to grasp what he was explaining had happened. Eventually, he gave up and decided to deal with what he believed to be a simple billing problem once he returned home.

He was 100 percent wrong with his assumption that this problem could be easily resolved. It took him three months to determine that he needed some outside assistance to help fight this battle against Royal Caribbean.

One day, he was surfing through the internet and found some of the cruise fiascos that I’ve covered over the years — including this one about a Carnival Cruises passenger denied boarding by mistake. He was encouraged that we had been able to correct problems with the cruise line giants, and he hoped we could help him too.

“Can you help me?” Stan asked. “Or should I just give up this fight with Royal Caribbean? But $4,200 is a lot to lose.”

When I read through his paper trail, I was confident that he should not give up his fight.

Can Royal Caribbean double dip on this upgrade?

Stan’s paper trail was certainly confusing, to be sure. When I reviewed what he had presented to the Royal Caribbean team, I wasn’t quite sure what had happened. I suspect that his explanation and paper trail similarly confused the Royal Caribbean team.

To ensure that your message is received most favorably, particularly if your issue is complex, you need to follow the guidance in our article about self-advocacy. Keep your complaint short and polite, and make certain that it is easily understandable from an outsider’s point of view. And leave out all extraneous information. Ask yourself if any parts of your narrative are necessary for the reader’s understanding of the core problem. If not, remove the information. Ask a friend who isn’t familiar with the problem to read your complaint and give you feedback on its clarity.

Remember, cruise lines, airlines, and consumer advocates are receiving hundreds, if not thousands, of complaints and requests for help every week, so if your problem isn’t clear, they might not spend the time to decipher it. (But don’t worry, our team will.)

After a top Royal Caribbean executive offered Fernald just $1,500 in cruise credits for his “inconvenience,” I was sure the cruise line’s team did not have a firm understanding of what had actually happened here. After all, the next step the cruise consultant who booked the family’s upgrade should have taken was to cancel any pending RoyalUp bids – unless they would have upgraded the family further.

It was time to ask our friends at Royal Caribbean what had happened here and if we could finally correct this problem for the Fernalds.

Asking Royal Caribbean what went wrong

Hi **** & the rest of our RCCL friends!

I have another case over here that I hoped you could take a look at. Stan Fernald and his wife were passengers on the Liberty of the Seas on Jan. 16, 2022.

Originally they booked a Grand suite. They bid for a RoyalUp upgrade in the hopes of an upgrade to the Royal Suite ($4,200 bid). But THEN, they added another person to their reservation and paid to upgrade to the 4-bedroom Villa Suite on Dec. 31. On Jan. 1, RCCL sent the couple a congratulatory message that they had won their bid, and for an additional $4,200, they received a downgrade to the Royal Suite from the Villa Suite.

Stan straightened out the cabin change by showing that he had already paid for a complete upgrade to the bigger suite and RCCL put him back in the Villa Suite. The Fernalds enjoyed the Villa Suite and their cruise very much. BUT RCCL kept the additional $4,200 for the bid that [customer service] should have canceled after the couple paid to upgrade to the bigger suite.

Last week, Royal Caribbean offered the couple a $1,500 FCC for this confusion. But looking at the correspondence, I didn’t get the impression that the RCCL representative really understood what happened here. (I’m not sure Stan explained it clearly — his explanation was a bit confusing)

It seems like there should be a policy in place that would stop an “upgrade” from processing if the passenger is already booked in a higher cabin category. Could your team have a look at the transaction history of this couple’s cruise and see what you can do at this point?

Thank you! 🛳😊

Michelle to the Royal Caribbean executive team

Royal Caribbean: “RoyalUp bids are nonrefundable.”

Soon I got a response from one of our executive contacts at Royal Caribbean reiterating the same $1,500 cruise credit offer.

Dear Michelle,

Thank you for contacting us regarding Mr. Fernald’s RoyalUp concern.

Per review conducted, I am sending this response to you to confirm Mr. Stan Fernald’s concerns were thoroughly addressed with him and although his compensation request was denied as the upgrade payments made for bids, accepted through RoyalUp, are final and non-refundable, Future Cruise Certificates were extended to him and his wife and these certificates are valid until Mar. 8, 2023.

Thank you again, Michelle, for reaching out to us on behalf of Mr. Fernald. We value his patronage to Royal Caribbean International and hope to be of service to him and his wife in the near future.


**** ****
Executive Office
Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.

This definitely wasn’t the response I hoped for… And although our team doesn’t strive to become pests to the companies we mediate with, I felt that there was still some disconnect about what actually happened with this couple’s reservation.

So I tried again. After all, $4,200 was on the line.

Dear Royal Caribbean: Please look at this case one more time

Hi ****,

Thanks for getting back to me. We’re going to be publishing an article about this case, so I want to make sure that all the facts are clear on both sides. Your customer bid on an upgrade. However, later he paid for an upgrade to what I think is one of the biggest cabins on that ship (4 bedrooms). The Royal Caribbean guest services assisted the couple with that upgrade.

It would seem that once he paid for that upgrade to the giant suite, that the next step should have been for Royal Caribbean to cancel the RoyalUp bid since none of the RoyalUp options would have actually been an upgrade. This seems like an oversight on the part of whoever at Royal Caribbean processed the upgrade to the giant suite. Royal Caribbean took payment for the upgrade to the four bedroom suite and then an additional $4,200 payment for the RoyalUp bid that was actually a downgrade.

Could you just confirm if this is your understanding of the details of Stan’s situation? And if so, shouldn’t he minimally receive a future credit for the entire cost of the RoyalUp bid? Thank you!! 😊 (Michelle to Royal Caribbean)

And then — success!

The good news: Here’s your refund for the RoyalUp bid

Soon I received the fantastic news that the RoyalUp team and the customer service team at Royal Caribbean had made a connection. The two teams recognized that something had gone wrong here. It would appear that even though the Villa Suite is much larger, RCCL identifies the Royal Suite as an upgrade. This seems to be what caused the RoyalUp bid problem in the system.

Dear Michelle,

Thank you for your return email.

I have shared it with our RoyalUp management team, who shared the enclosed information and advised the RoyalUp bid amount will be refunded.

The guests called and paid the difference to go from their original stateroom to the Villa Suite 6414. As the Royal Suite is a higher stateroom than the Villa Suite, their RoyalUp bid was still active, and on Jan. 1, it was actioned and charged.

When the customer called our customer service and was changed from a Royal Suite to a Villa Suite on Jan. 2, the customer service agent should have also refunded the RoyalUp bid amount, and this refund will be processed.

Thank you for your follow-up, Michelle.


**** ****
Executive Office
Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd.

Stan is super pleased to get his “upgrade” fee refunded and is happy to let the $4,200 problem sail off into the horizon (and back into his wallet!).

Michelle, thank you so very much for all. Amazing work and greatly appreciated. I know it was a very convoluted situation for all sides and truly no one’s fault. Big corps have trouble communicating. (Stan Fernald)

RoyalUp: Here’s what you need to know about bidding on a cabin upgrade on your Royal Caribbean cruise

Our team frequently receives requests from travelers who’ve bid on various types of upgrades, and things have gone wrong. From cruise cabins to business class seats on international flights, I’ve seen a lot of upgrade fiascos. Typically, these mishaps result from the consumer not fully understanding the bidding process. The RoyalUp program is fairly straightforward, but there are a few things you should be aware of before you bid on a cabin upgrade for your next cruise.

  • RoyalUp bids are nonrefundable.
    This is very important to keep in mind. After Royal Caribbean accepts your bid and confirms your upgrade, that seals the deal. RoyalUp upgrades are not refundable even if you change your mind later.
  • Not all bookings are eligible for RoyalUp bids.
    Not all Royal Caribbean passengers can bid on an upgrade. Some fares and sailings are not eligible. If you can bid on an upgrade, you may receive an email asking if you’re interested in trying for a RoyalUp upgrade. That email will contain the various options and bids required based on what the passenger has paid for their current cabin. If you don’t receive an email offering upgrade options, you can check your eligibility for the RoyalUp program here.
  • RoyalUp bids are per person for two guests.
    When you bid on an upgrade, keep in mind the price you see is per person, based on two people. So make sure to factor that into your overall budget. The good news? Royal Caribbean will only charge you for two people for the upgrade, even if other cruisers are listed in your current cabin.
  • Upgraded prepaid tips will apply.
    Yes, this is a controversial topic, but if you’ve prepaid your gratuities or if you haven’t made your tipping desires clear to the cruise line, you will be auto-upgraded for the suggested tips for your new cabin category.
  • Upgrades vary – Photos are just examples/drawings.
    We recently received a complaint from a cruiser who had used the RoyalUp program and got elevated to an Aquatheater suite. He was shocked that it didn’t really match up to the pictures that RCCL shares on its website. Read the fine print on the site, and you’ll discover that many of the cabin photos are artist renditions or rough approximations of the cabins, which can vary widely. To get an accurate view of the cabin you’re considering bidding on, it’s best to put the cabin’s name and ship into the Google search field. You’ll surely find links to YouTube videos from real passengers who’ve already sailed in the cabin. It’s essential to do this before you place your bid. Visiting the Cruise Critic forums is another way to get an accurate understanding of whether or not you would like to upgrade to a particular cabin – before you commit yourself to it.
  • You can bid on multiple upgrade possibilities.
    You can bid on more than one upgrade possibility through the RoyalUp program. But remember, any of your bids could be accepted, so don’t reach beyond your budget. Being upgraded to a beautiful, luxurious suite isn’t much fun if you spend the entire cruise (and afterward staring at the credit card bill) with buyer’s remorse. Only bid on the upgrades that fit comfortably into your budget. And PS, impulsively buying expensive jewelry during your cruise is also a recipe for another type of cruise fiasco. Remember, buyer’s remorse will ruin even the best vacation and is a problem that even the Consumer Rescue team can’t fix!  (Michelle Couch-Friedman, Consumer Rescue)

*Before you go: Looking for more Royal Caribbean cruise fiascos? Here are some for you:  

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Michelle Couch-Friedman

Michelle Couch-Friedman is the founder and CEO of Consumer Rescue. She is a consumer advocate, ombudsman columnist, mediator, writer, and licensed psychotherapist. Michelle is a public speaker, and her expert guidance has been cited in MarketWatch, Consumer Reports, Travel & Leisure, The Wall Street Journal, Newsweek, Popular Science, CNN, CNBC, Boston Globe, CBS News, National Geographic, Travel Weekly, Reader's Digest and more. You might even catch Michelle on TV reporting on a situation. :) Michelle is also the travel ombudsman columnist for The Points Guy and is the former executive director of the nonprofit Elliott Advocacy. During her six years in that position, she resolved thousands of cases for troubled travelers and other consumers. You can read hundreds of 5-star reviews Michelle earned during her service to the nonprofit since 2016 here on Great Nonprofits. She is also a member of the Society of American Travel Writers. Today, she continues to spend as much time as possible fiercely defending consumers and traveling the world with her family. Contact her at Michelle Couch-Friedman or on Linkedin, Twitter or Facebook.